consensus,

“bulldozing a healthy disagreement into grumbling unanimity”; a singularly inefficient, nerve-sucking “way to govern without governing” — and the only one that works: “anything incompatible with a meaningful consensus is not worth deciding.” ■    Human is a consensus animal: the unthinking, unquestioning “urge of belonging” used to stabilize progressively larger social groupings — from tribe to humankind — until the tide turned around to question the never-before-questioned; the lull of early sparsening left consensus instinct almost unexercised except at the lowest levels of family and workgroup. In a world without majority rule or media-amplified issues, a new “post-democracy consensus” evolved as a conscious — taught — behavioral pattern that filters the primal conformity instinct through many layers of strangening and deliberate undo; the “cat herding” techniques and language — standards of sense-making, supermajority thresholds, argument routines, stop words, even voting — have been developing in collectives of all kinds from snippiest projects to slow hierarchical fandoms of princes and priests. Familys ideal of wordless, transparent, happiness-compatible consensus is elusive; as a group grows, procedures get more formalized and nontrivial outcomes harder to achieve (esp. when the discussion is open and concern voices may easily join) — but a consensus is ineluctable, if only as a prerequisite for outside arbitration. ■    Consensual outcomes are rarely the most efficient or most satisfying; often, the authors of a consensus retro-find the best reasons to regret their choice. With all checks and balances, a charismatic minority may still harangue the rest into a pseudoconsensus, just as an inert majority may block a needed change (keeping the status quo, whatever it may mean in the context, is the norm when no consensus can be forged or faked). Practicing formalized negotiations helps develop two essential skills: recognizing a consensus that already exists (if unverbalized) — and recognizing when none is possible: a lightheartedness to leave once you find yourself outside a consensus on what matters to you.

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